Going down South

How many Southern Railway employees does it take to change a light bulb? Seven. Four who were on the last two trains that were cancelled, one to drive the train, one to change the light bulb and one more to sit in the guard’s cabin and repeat their well rehearsed and tiresome attempt at humour at every station.

The contrast between the two ends of this journey that started in Oslo and ended in Portsmouth couldn’t be more pronounced. It was a nice day in Oslo, and so I walked down to the central station to get a train ticket to the airport.

I hurt my leg a couple of weeks back, so I had already got myself a one month, one zone travel pass to get me to and from work. I bought it using the app on my mobile phone. To get from the central station to the airport is four zones and I didn’t want to pay for the first zone again so I went to the help desk for Norwegian National Railways.

“just buy it on your phone, and it will take the existing ticket into account”

was their advice. So I did, and it did. The price of one zone was subtracted from the price and I saved myself 3 quid.

I also needed to buy myself a ticket at the other end to get from Gatwick Airport to Portsmouth. I checked on Google Play and sure enough there was a TrainLine app advertising the ability to plan journeys and buy tickets. It was only after I downloaded, installed and input my payment information that I realised that I could buy the ticket, but I would still have to go to a ticket machine to get the ticket – i.e., I couldn’t have the ticket on the phone. So I could save queuing by buying my ticket with the app … and then queue up with everyone else who was buying their ticket. The only possible benefit I could see is that I might be able to buy a ticket in advance at a lower price but, given the new pricing strategies, unless I want to travel at an odd hour my options are probably quite limited.

The real value of the app came to light after we landed at Gatwick and I was rushing along through the terminal to see if I could make the 20:40. It was going to be close, so I checked the app to see whether the train was running late and I might have a few more minutes to spare.

It wasn’t running late, it was cancelled, and the next train was now at 21:10. I slowed down, ambled through passport control and over to the ticket machine to get a ticket before I wandered back into the terminal for a coffee. Glancing up at the departure board I noticed an announcement for the 20:40 departing from Platform 3. The train wasn’t cancelled, just terminating at Bognor Regis. I had visions of the local tourist board lifting a petrol soaked sofa across the tracks to Chichester before retreating to a safe distance to hurl a lighter in the general direction to kick things off.

I went down to the platform at 21:05 to find it was delayed until 21:14. There was a pseudo cockney announcing departures with a forced jack the lad jollity. Occasionally, they would intersperse his jauntiness with a recorded announcement from an abrupt sounding lady in the CCTV office warning people to stand well back behind the yellow line when the train was approaching the platform. She sounded brusque, the sort of person who takes no nonsense. I expected a headmistress type to come out and start briskly marching down the platform with a metal ruler to start rap any offenders across the knuckles. Although, as I’ve never seen a train manage anything above a sickly crawl when making an entrance, so I’m not sure where the immediate danger lay.

At 21:15 the train trundled in and creaked to a rheumatic halt. I pressed the door button and after about 10s the doors reluctantly parted and I was greeted with a strong smell of stale beer and fast food. It seemed to be coming both from the carpet and the passengers and once I had settled in my seat I began to understand why. Instead of the usual monotone delivery from the train guard greeting new passengers and informing them of the next stop, we had a standup comedienne.

It might have been bearable if the last train hadn’t been cancelled and this one was running on time but when you are fucking around with the customers, cracking jokes is probably not the way to go, perhaps a more contrite tone would be appreciated. And judging from the stolid expressions from the other passengers I wasn’t alone in this line of thought. Maybe they were all going to Bognor Regis. Also, she had a very strong Scottish accent and I was having trouble understanding her.

“there are eight coaches on this wee train, the front four will go to Southampton, the last four will go to Bognor Regis”

“1, 2, 3, 4, you’re a load of dirty whores!”

“5, 6, 7, 8 hell will come to those who wait”

At Three Bridges I put on my noise cancelling headphones and turned on the music. Some of these people had been on the trains since London Victoria and only had a newspaper. Behind me I could hear two blokes talking animatedly after they had discovered (via the TrainLine app) that there was a coach service to Littlehampton. Maybe the guard had slipped that in between her one liners and no had one understood.

It occurred to me that there might be similar problems ahead for me, so I opened up the app one more time. It seemed I had a clear run, aside from the fact the train was appeared to be losing another minute at every station, and when I looked at my watch, they were already another five minutes behind their projected schedule.

At the bottom of the app display I noticed a banner that said “warning: standing room only in the front three carriages. I was at the front of carriage 1. I turned around to see i had three other passengers for company and they all had headphones. Everyone else probably got off at the previous stop for a bit of peace and quiet.


Standing room only

One Response to “Going down South”

  1. janh1 Says:

    Yup, the rail companies need to get rid of inappropriate jollity and employ abject obsequious hand-wringers. Much more in keeping with the disaffected passenger mood…well, yours, anyway 🙂

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